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"FOR THE LITTLE ONES"

 

A century ago, a devoted (or exhausted) mother had no where to send her young child for socialization or education before enrollment in first grade.  To provide some early education for pre-schoolers, a group of "ladies interested in educational work" met in March 1896 to establish the .  The 75 charter members formed the Public Kindergarten Association to establish a free kindergarten for the children of Battle Creek.

 

The first classes were held in the basement of the Congregational Church in April 1896.  Three cadet teachers assisted Miss Gertrude Brundage, a graduate of the Kindergarten Training School of the State Normal School (now MSU),  teach good manners, good morals and good habits to 52 three to six year olds.

 

A year later, the kindergarten had grown in popularity and more space was needed.  As the winter term opened in February 1897, two additional sites were located for kindergarten classes.  Mr. and Mrs. Strong of 251 Lake Avenue (Capital Avenue SW near Fountain Street) "generously opened their beautiful new home and gratuitously set apart a spacious room, heated at their expense." Miss Cook and an assistant teacher began teaching in this room "tastefully finished in natural wood ... with pretty landscape windows" on February 15.

 

In addition, "two very pleasant sunny rooms" were rented at 266 Champion Street, near College Street.  This West End branch opened each morning at 8:30 a.m. to "gladly welcome the little new comers."  Teacher Janette Martin, assisted by Miss Nellie White and Miss Smith, announced in the newspaper that "visitors were always welcome."

 

A week later the Kindergarten Association decided to open yet another school on the north side, to "relieve the central school [crowding] and to reduce the expense of transportation."  Mr. and Mrs. Cleveland donated two rooms in their home at 316 Garfield Avenue for classroom use.

 

According to the Daily Moon, "This will make four schools under the management of the Kindergarten Association. ... Thus gradually is being fulfilled the hope of those interested to have a kindergarten in every ward of the city."

 

The good ladies of the Association were skilled at soliciting donations.  Not only did they obtain donated classroom space, but they also coaxed goods and service from local merchants.

 

The newspaper reported that "the teachers and the little ones of the kindergarten were made thrice happy by the red, white and blue paper for their Washington's Birthday program, generously donated by ex-Mayor William Gage."

 

At the beginning of February the Association expressed its appreciation to the anonymous donors of an organ for the South Side kindergarten and made a public appeal to "anyone who has an instrument that they would be willing to loan to the West End school."

 

The most fulsome praise was reserved for the Electric Street Railway Company, the "Corporation with a Soul."  The Association ladies were "delighted to testify that the company... does have a heart and soul... which are generously responsive to the educational and charitable interests of our beautiful city."  During the summer of 1896 the Electric Street Railway Corporation had donated their equipment and all fares collected for a day as a benefit for the Nichols Hospital and the Kindergarten Association.

 

In addition to this special event, the Railway provided free transportation during the following year to the kindergarten director as she traveled around the city visiting all the classrooms. 

 

The Kindergarten Association ladies continued their "noble work" of raising money and donations to run the classrooms for pre-schoolers until the free kindergarten became part of the public school system in 1912-13.